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A Survey of How English Language Arts Teachers Address Synthesis Writing in Classroom Instruction




Mayhan, Brett

Type of Degree



Curriculum and Teaching


The use of information from source materials in service of an argument or idea original to a writer is, according to the scholarly literature, one of the most complex applications of reading and writing. It is also, according to the literature, a type of composition that is valued in higher education. In an effort to determine how teachers of various English Language Arts (ELA) courses are addressing this important type of writing, the author conducted a nationwide survey, collecting responses from 1,200 ELA teachers. The survey asked respondents to provide a definition of synthesis writing and to describe an example of a synthesis task that they would assign to students, and those definitions and task descriptions were categorized and coded. The survey also asked about the frequency with which respondents assign such synthesis-writing tasks, as well as the frequency with which they address key synthesis-writing strategies and with which they apply particular pedagogical strategies. Additionally, the survey asked respondents about their awareness of learning objectives pertaining to synthesis writing in their state course-of-study standards and the extent to which they received training on synthesis writing in college courses, professional development workshops, or in-service activities. Responses to these questions were analyzed against various demographic data provided by the respondents (e.g., type of ELA course taught, type of school, years of teaching experience) in order to determine if responses about synthesis writing correlated strongly with or were dependent on specific demographics. The survey data suggest that respondents across various types of ELA courses define synthesis writing differently. Furthermore, respondents often perceive synthesis writing differently than their articulated definition of synthesis writing. Additionally, the types of tasks that they identify as synthesis writing often do not align with their own definitions of that term. The data also suggest that ELA teachers in urban schools or those whose students are primarily nonwhite may provide more frequent opportunities for what they perceive as synthesis-writing tasks, but those tasks are less likely to actually involve synthesis of information from multiple source materials. The data also indicate that ELA teachers with 16 or more years of teaching experience are more likely to provide frequent instruction in key synthesis-writing skills.